Task Force to Look Into Child Sexual Abuse in Indian Health Service

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March 26, 2019
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by Dan Frosch The Wall Street Journal
Christopher Weaver The Wall Street Journal

Last September, Stanley Patrick Weber was convicted of sexually assaulting two boys in Montana. He is appealing the verdict.

The Trump administration will convene a task force to examine why a pediatrician was allowed to sexually abuse Native American boys for decades while working for the Indian Health Service and try to prevent such a crime from happening again.

The team of law enforcement and other government officials will examine why the IHS failed to stop the doctor, Stanley Patrick Weber, and also how better to protect Native American children under the care of the federal health agency, senior administration officials said. The committee will be co-chaired by Trent Shores, U.S. attorney for the northern district of Oklahoma, and Joe Grogan, the White House’s domestic policy council chairman, the officials said.

The announcement of the task force Tuesday is the latest inquiry into the IHS’s mishandling of Mr. Weber’s case, following an investigation by The Wall Street Journal and FRONTLINE.

The Journal/FRONTLINE investigation, published in February, chronicled the story of Mr. Weber, who was convicted last year of sexually assaulting Native American boys under his care. The IHS transferred him from hospital to hospital on Indian reservations even after allegations were made to officials that he was molesting patients, the Journal/FRONTLINE investigation found. He continued to work for the agency for more than two decades.

“The point is not to solve every problem in Indian country and spend a couple of years doing this. We really want to focus on: How did this situation fester for so long through multiple administrations?” one senior administration official said. “Everyone should be outraged this occurred.”

In addition to Mr. Grogan and Mr. Shores, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, the task force will include officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the IHS, officials said.

“When this story became more widely known — and as the U.S. attorney’s office prosecution of Dr. Weber came to fruition and with his sentencing in January — it really helped to underscore the need for policy and protocol changes at IHS to ensure that this would never happen again,” another administration official said.

Mr. Weber was sentenced in January to more than 18 years in prison for sexually abusing two boys while working on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana. He is appealing the verdict.

The Presidential Task Force on Protecting Native American Children in the Indian Health Service System will hold its first meeting in the coming weeks in Tulsa, according to administration officials. It will consult with tribal members during the scope of its work and hopes to make policy recommendations to President Trump by the end of the year, officials said.

Several other investigations are also under way in the case of Mr. Weber, whose medical career spanned reservations in Montana, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Members of Congress have requested the Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general look into the case and hold responsible any IHS officials who knew of Mr. Weber’s abuses but failed to act. The inspector general’s investigators were instrumental in the federal charges that were eventually brought against the doctor.

Separately, Rear Adm. Michael Weahkee, the IHS’s acting director, has said he is in the process of hiring a contractor to look into his agency’s failures over the case.

Mr. Weber is slated to go to trial in South Dakota in September on charges he sexually abused Native American boys under his care in that state. He has pleaded not guilty.

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